50 Word Essays: TMI? edition

1.) Hometown.
“You don’t want to see it? Your old house?”

It was only a minute out of the way, but I shrugged and said, “Not really.”

Chris, my oldest friend, was surprised. “I think I’m more sentimental about it than you are.”

I nodded. “You probably are.” We kept driving.


2.) Cigarettes.
“So smoking’s your only vice?”

This from my doctor, who now knows about my height, weight, sexuality, gender identity, occasional heart arrhythmia, alcohol consumption, intermittent depression, irresponsible sexual history, exercise habits, those weird but PROBABLY NOT CANCEROUS cervical cells, and yes, my smoking.

“Yes,” I say. “And my favorite one.”

3.) Milestones
Five months since our first date. I didn’t fart in front of you until three months out. Didn’t tell you about my dad until six weeks after that. Never made you cry until yesterday. Tears slid down your face with the gravity of thirty weeks.

Are either of us sorry?

4.) Dogs.
Any dog I get needs to be lazier than me. All I want is a lumpy, amicable weight on my legs during writing binges. In exchange for belly rubs, he’ll keep my feet warm, and will only make me leave the house when we’re both dying of Vitamin D deficiency.


5.) Dogs, redux.
Changed my mind. I need a dog that will keep me from overdosing on tamarind Jarritos. A dog that can play Scrabble with me when my brain won’t shut off. A dog that reminds me to take my Vitamin D supplements. A dog, in short, that’ll be the responsible one.

What I’ve Been Reading: September 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started taking notes about the stories I’ve been enjoying. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com.

Novels:

Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer
Spiraling weirdness, converging stories, and some explanations that do nothing to illuminate the greater mysteries of Area X. I think each of the three books in the Southern Reach trilogy stand on their own while also creating an amazing arc. Bravo.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury, I’ve decided, can write sentences and scenes that will pull the air out of my chest, but has a pretty serious myopia about the politics of censorship. For people interested in histories of the destruction of books (it’s depressing, but also incredibly interesting), I’d recommend two titles: Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries by Rebecca Knuth, and A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez.

Anthologies

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction From Social Justice Movements, edited by Walida Imarisha and adrienne maree brown. I’ll be reviewing this for Strange Horizons.

Podcasts

Limetown finally released a second episode. The story continues to intrigue me, but I’m not quite hooked. A large part of that has to do with the nature of serialized stories. I need consistency to maintain interest. When episodes are spaced out over a couple months, audiences tend to drift away, especially when there’s no backlog of episodes.

Selected Shorts produced a live reading of Stephen Colbert reading “The Enduring Chill” by Flannery O’Connor, and it’s sheer magic. O’Connor has a gift for skewering the well-meaning white liberal, and this story falls somewhere between Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty; a pointed satire on race, religion, and intellectualism.

Reveal, produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, did a series of podcasts about missing persons and unidentified bodies in the US. This month, they’re tackling the water crisis in North America.

Two new-to-me podcasts recommendations: The Mystery Show and Transistor. Mystery Show’s host attempts to solve her friends’ mysteries, which can be anything from the fate of a New York video store, to Jake Gyllenhal’s real height. Transistor is a STEM podcast, with stories about things like Math Mimes and the when PMS was used as a legal defense.

Also, you should probably listen to Amal El-Mohtar reading her story, “The Truth About Owls” in Podcastle.

Short Stories

“A Letter From the Clearys” by Connie Willis, from The Best of Connie Willis, originally published in Asimov’s in July 1982. I can see why this won the Nebula back in the day. A slow reveal, a tight focus on family dynamics, a spirited narrator, and a rising tension. This story is brilliant.

Sleepless” by Natalia Theodoridou, published in sub-Q. An interactive story, “Sleepless” has multiple threads that branch out from its first page. Humans have stopped sleeping, and our narrator walks through a not-quite-awake world: listens to callers on a helpline, wanders through a nightclub, talks with the patrons and servers at a 24 hour diner. I’ve noticed that sub-q also has interactive stories by two of my other favorite contemporary short SFF writers: Yoon Ha Lee and Vajra Chandrasekera. I’m looking forward to playing around more on this site.

Ten Things To Know About the Ten Questions” by Gwendolyn Kiste, published in Nightmare Magazine. People are disappearing, and nobody can explain why, or where they’ve gone. The narrator is a young girl navigating strained family dynamics, friendships, and an oppressive school and government that seeks, above all else, to keep its people where they are. The questions in the title refer to a mandatory test for how likely one is to disappear, and these questions provide the framework for the story. I enjoyed this multi-layered story a lot.

All In a Hot and Copper Sky” by Megan Arkenberg, published in Lightspeed. In a series of letters, written only inside her head, Dolores Alvarez recounts how her lover Socorro’s crime, which has been made infamous in the intervening decades since her trial and conviction. Dolores and Socorro were both volunteers in a biosphere project, a real-time experiment to see if several hundred people could live in an isolated, locked-down habitat for two years. When the oxygen filters failed, Socorro forced the guards at gunpoint to open the habitat to the outside atmosphere, and killed two of them. Ever since, Dolores has had to answer for Socorro’s crime. This story explores the metaphorical albatross that’s been hung around the narrator’s neck, how much of this is her responsibility, and what duties she has to prevent such an experiment from happening again.

Glaciers Made You” by Gabby Reed, published in Strange Horizons. “I look hard in the mirror that night, but the words aren’t there before the skin peels off. It isn’t there if it peels off on its own, either. I have to pull it, and then the words come.” Geography, skin, family, blood, and words: a gorgeous, poetic, and painful story. If you want to read more of Gabby’s work, but need some time to heal your heart, I suggest their flash story “If Ramgoth the Unyielding Were Your Boyfriend,” published on their site.

The Closest Thing to Animals” by Sofia Samatar in Fireside Fiction. Samatar is an incredibly thoughtful writer; I can’t think of a better word to describe her stories than “generous”. Her stories give so much while being easy to read, easy to fall into. I also recommend her essay that was published in New Inquiry this month, “Skin Feeling,” about diversity, jazz, race, and visibility.

The Accidental Organizer — OR, how I lost one job, helped unionize another, and managed to survive

Today, September 17, is the main event for workers (including myself) at Divvy: we’ll be negotiating our wages, along with a few other things. I hope that Divvy Bikes and its parent company will agree that its workers deserve fair wages.

I don’t think I’ve told this story online, have I? Last summer, I had worked part-time at Divvy, Chicago’s public bikesharing program, for just over a year. I had been promised–though they’ll always deny this, so maybe I should say it was strongly hinted to me–that workers would receive raises during their first annual review. For me, that would be July of 2014.

In June, I lost my other job. The cafe I’d been working at lost its lease, and Divvy became my only steady source of income. I was making $12 an hour, and not allowed to work more than thirty hours a week. When I asked about those raises, my manager shook his head, and I was told that there’d be no raises, because bikeshare workers in New York City had unionized.

Divvy is owned by Motivate, which took over from Alta Bike Share, which was owned by… you know, it doesn’t matter. What you need to know is that Motivate also owns and operates the bike shares of New York, Boston, Washington DC, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, and a few other cities. New York unionized first, with the Transport Workers Union local 100, which represents all MTA workers. They’re a powerful union, and it was smart of Citibike workers to join them.

When I was told the Citibike workers had unionized, I started talking to coworkers I’d worked alongside with for the past year, folks who I knew well enough to nod to but hadn’t spoken to much, to find out where they stood on it. One of them was Caleb Usry, a driver who’d worked there as long as I had. I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure it’s him in this picture. divvy

Caleb contacted the TWU Local 100 directly, and two representatives flew out in October to meet with any Divvy workers that were interested. Turns out that bikeshare workers in Washington DC and Boston were doing the same thing. I signed my card and passed it on.

(Note to folks who don’t know how this works: when forming a union, workers sign a petition in the form of cards, which authorizes said union to represent them during collective negotiations. When a certain percentage of your work force signs cards, you can hand them into the National Labor Relations Board, which will conduct an impartial vote a few weeks later.)

After turning in my card, I got cards to a few other people, and then started collecting them, and then ended up sitting down with Caleb during a conference call to the TWU, and then writing and sending out press releases. And then, to my surprise, people started treating me like I actually knew what I was doing. I fell into organizing by accident, because I had the time and I could see what needed to be done. And I felt sort of fearless: I’d already lost one job that summer and survived, and I was young and able-bodied and had support from my family and friends. If I got fired, I’d live.

Not to say I wasn’t scared. I spent three solid months sleeping badly, having nightmares, not eating, and learning way too many dirty secrets about my place of employment. Four days a week, I had to deal with dirty looks and awkward silences and the odd bout of screaming from someone I worked with, who now saw me as an enemy. Divvy had hired lawyers from the Jackson Lewis firm to run an anti-union campaign, and we had to sit through hours of mandatory town-hall meetings while various managers (both Divvy’s and higher-ups at Motivate, including the CEO) explained how bad a union would be for us.

It seems silly to complain. I’ve heard horror stories about other organizers, about assaults and bullying and abuse. Hell, the history of the labor movement is full of martyrs, workers shot dead in streets, children burned to death in tents, acres and acres of graves and gallows. I got some verbal threats and passive-aggressive shunning. It still sucked out my will to live for a while.

If what I was doing hadn’t mattered, I might have just quit and moved on with my life. But I couldn’t be totally blasé about what I was doing, couldn’t pretend that it didn’t matter. I’d fallen into a cycle of working shitty jobs that would keep me fed and housed until I could find a better job–but the better jobs turned out to be crappy and exploitative too. That’s what’s happening in the job market now, for working-class and lower-middle class people in America: we’re expected to give everything to companies that treat us like ass, and we should be grateful to receive any kind of income at all.

Like hell. What was it Angela Davis said? “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I can’t accept.” At some point, the cycle has to break. Jobs should sustain people. If a company can’t make a profit without exploiting its workers, it shouldn’t be in business. It’s simple as that.

Our union election was December 10, 2014. I’d lost count of a lot of things by then: hours of sleep I’d lost, email I’d sent, cigarettes that Caleb and I smoked while incessantly plotting, the hundreds of thousands of dollars Divvy spent on lawyers to bust our unionization efforts. I was in a waiting room of an urgent care clinic for most of the election day, madly texting a couple dozen people while watching HGTV. A cute lesbian couple wanted to buy a house in Puerto Vallarta. An uncute heterosexual couple wanted to either buy a new house or completely remodel their current one, because the pink kitchen was cramped and awful. The pinched nerve in my elbow, where I’d slammed it against my work bench the day before, ached fiercely, and two of my fingertips were still numb. I tapped them on my phone.

I got a text from one of my coworkers, which said simply, We won.

I didn’t believe it until I called Caleb, and when he picked up, he was crying. We’d won by a single vote.

We got so drunk that night.


Not very long after we won the union election vote, a friend called me and told me that she wanted to organize a union at her job. The first thing I told her was, “If I can do it, you can do it.” Then I told her that it would be hard and extremely stressful and would probably take over her life for a while in an unhealthy way. I WAS RIGHT ON ALL COUNTS. My friend successfully organized a group of teaching assistants at a school for children with autism. I helped organize a union for bikeshare workers in Chicago. It’s not a miracle: it’s the product of a lot of work and worry and organization. It’s the end result of an equation that had been built over the course of years. I’m standing on the shoulders–and the bones–of a lot of people who went before me. And I’m standing with dozens of other people, who stuck their necks out at their job, who helped facilitate all the conversations that needed to happen.

It has been a long, weird trip to get here, the day of what will hopefully be our final negotiation. I don’t know what will happen: if management is going to try to shortchange us, if there’s going to be a fight, rallies, a strike, a picket line, a showdown. I really hope not. We’re not asking a lot; just the sort of fair wages that will put us level with other cities under Motivate’s management.

If you’d like to help, please like our Facebook page or send a message of support to Divvy today, via social media, email, or phone.

Divvy Bikes on Facebook
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Email: customerservice@divvybikes.com
Phone: 1-855-55-DIVVY

What I’ve been listening to: the podcasts that give me life

As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently embraced podcasts as a way to get me through my workday. I work long hours with my hands, and those hours pass a lot quicker with podcasts and audio books, as it turns out. This month, instead of linking to all the individual stories I read, I decided to do a drive-by rec post for the podcasts that I listen to constantly.  All of these podcasts are available on iTunes, and presumably Stitcher and other podcast apps.

First, a quick plug for the app Overdrive. If you have a membership to a public library, you can use Overdrive to borrow audiobooks and ebooks for free. Of the three novels I got through last month, two were mp3 audiobooks that I borrowed from the Chicago Public Library. They don’t have everything I could wish for, but that also nudges me towards books I wouldn’t read otherwise.

Magazines you already read might have podcasts! I regularly listen to the Clarkesworld, Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Strange Horizons podcasts. In addition, there are audio-only magazines like Glittership, Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod.

If you’re interested in listening to stories outside of genre, Selected Shorts and The New Yorker Fiction Podcast both feature mainstream literary fiction. Selected Shorts employs actors to read short fiction, while the New Yorker’s fiction podcasts has authors choose a story from their archives to read and discuss.

If you, like me, consider everything between September 1 through Thanksgiving as BASICALLY HALLOWEEN, you might be interested in some horror- or supernatural-themed podcasts. I’ve been mainlining Knifepoint Horror, going through two or three episodes a day. Knifepoint is extremely pared down, with a single reader with minimal sound effects or music. It’s like listening to a ghost story told on a camping trip. My girlfriend and I, meanwhile, are both obsessed with The Black Tapes Podcast, which has a X-Files meets Serial feel. It’s engrossing and charming, and tries to blur the line between fantasy and reality. The Horror! rebroadcasts vintage radio plays from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. And is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Welcome to Nightvale? Have you been hiding out in the sand wastes?

I do also listen to non-fiction podcasts, though they’re still mostly story-focused. I’m a fan of Radiolab, On the MediaThis American Life, and most of NPR’s podcasts. I love me some Snap Judgement, because it’s a welcome disruption to the dweeby guys sitting in sound booths. Criminal is a great true-crime podcast, and you can’t help but feel educated after the BBC’s History Hour. Sawbones covers the history of medicine while being hysterically funny. Here Be Monsters is another excellent storytelling podcast, with an ethereal, occasionally unearthly sort of feeling. Love and Radio feels different than a lot of podcasts: focused in on a single voice, telling a complex and complicated story; they’ve had pimps, Mars one applicants, sex workers, and bank robbers tell their stories.


WHERE TO START?
Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite episodes that I’ve listened to recently. Links go to individual downloads/streams.

If you have recommendations for podcasts, add them in the comments or email them to me at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com.


Edited to add: I’ve been alerted to the existence of The Mystery Show, a charming podcast about an amateur sleuth who solves her friends’ (and presumably some total strangers’) mysteries. Also, turns out Apex Magazine has a podcast as well.

What I’ve Been Reading: May-July 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started taking notes about the stories I’ve been enjoying. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com. Note: It’s been a busy few months, so here’s a roundup of the last three months’ worth of recommended reading.

Novels:

My Real Children by Jo Walton. The premise of this story is actually pretty simple: an old woman with dementia remembers two distinct versions of her life. In one version, she married her college fiancé, while the other, she decided not to. The consequences of that choice seem to reach much farther than the protagonists personal life, and two entirely different worlds emerge. I think the real strength of this novel was actually in the wonderful way that two separate lives were rendered over the course of the novel. The world building and the interpersonal dynamics really worked for me. The end, not so much. I’m not totally sure what I was meant to take away from this story–it seemed like we were meant to believe that Patricia had unintentionally traded personal happiness for a measure of world peace. Realizing this, it opens the question to the audience: what choice would we make for ourselves? And would we choose the same if we knew the consequences?

Story Collections:

What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler.
I’d never read Karen Joy Fowler until this past month. I WAS SUCH A FOOL. Fowler is adept at writing in different genres and different themes, gliding from subtle horror to postmodern magical realism to historical science fiction. Her stories occupy the liminal space between dream and reality and nightmare. I can’t even.

Queers Destroy Science Fiction, edited by Seanan McGuire.
There are too many amazing stories in here to name, and I’m entirely biased, because I’m friends with a good number of people on the T.O.C. Just buy it and read it. It’s fantastic.

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The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, TPB #1-2
Another one of those stories that I’m kicking myself for not reading sooner. Gorgeous art and a compelling premise: every 90 years, twelve gods are incarnated in human bodies, and become pop stars. Within two years, they will all be dead. The writing is sharp, with Gillen delivering compelling character arcs and daring plots. I can’t describe how amazing the art is: it shows, without any doubt, how these characters contain their godheads while retaining their humanity. How do you do that? WHAT IS THIS COMIC.

Essays

Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours,” by Clemantine Wamariya. A gripping narrative that encompasses the complexity of being a refugee, of surviving the worst and still continuing to live in an insensible world.

“This is from your family, in Rwanda,” Oprah said, handing me a tan envelope. “From your father and your mother and your sisters and your brother.” Claire and I did know that our parents were alive, but we’d barely talked to them because — how do you start? Why didn’t you look harder for us? How are you? I’m fine, thanks, now working at Gap, and I’ve found it’s much easier to learn to read English if you also listen to audio books?

Short Fiction

Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente in Uncanny Magazine.
I listen to a lot of story podcasts, because my job as a mechanic requires my hands but not much of my attention. This story, read by the actor Heath Miller, is one of the best I’ve heard in months of podcast-listening. I have a hard time with some of Valente’s stories. Any review will mention her ornate and evocative prose, and many of her stories are densely packed with imagery and details. Reading it off the page, I get overwhelmed by it. I’ve noticed, however, that hearing her work read aloud is amazing, spellbinding, and lovely. (A friend and I traded off reading Deathless, which was how I was introduced to her work.) Heath Miller does an excellent job pulling out the many threads of this story, the voices, the layers. Highly recommended, and the podcast includes a great interview with Valente.

The Cellar Dweller” by Maria Dahvana Headley in Nightmare Magazine.
Speaking of podcasts, Lightspeed and Nightmare put out excellent, high-production audio versions of many of their stories. This is another story I recommend listening to out loud, because there’s so much wonderful wordplay in it, a sort of whimsy and bounciness to the prose that buoys up a rather dark story, and makes it a joy to hear. It’s a little Roald Dahl, a little Scary Stories to Read In the Dark.

Android Whores Can’t Cry” by Natalia Theodoridou in Clarkesworld.
(Another story that I listened to on audio. Seriously, bless all these magazines that podcast their stories.) Theodoridou consistently writes amazing and evocative stories, pulling imagery from the natural world, and making complicated and layered plots. Also recommended: her flash story from Daily Science Fiction, “A Domestic Lepidopterist,” published in March this year.

YOU ARE HERE: June 27, 2015

This has been a an interesting month. And by interesting, I mean mostly exhausting. I’ve had to deal with both transphobia and sexual harassment in my work life in the past few weeks. The work with my union has entered a weird phase that I’m not really able to talk about in public. Just in time for my 30th birthday, I’ve started experiencing daily pain in my back and right foot. (Yay, adulthood?) Then the SCOTUS rulings this week…

(Sidenote about marriage equality: I’m excited, though my excitement is tempered with a lot of other feelings. Others are writing with a lot more clarity than I could probably achieve at this point. Maybe I’ll write a curriculum list, or a link round-up.)

I also hit $100 a month with Patreon, which is HUGE! I’d like to celebrate that in some way–not least by making a new chapbook. This is also a reminder to folks that I’m welcoming short writing prompts. Email them to me at nanoonino [at] gmail.com, or hit me up on Twitter (@ninocipri) or on Facebook.

Then last night, I realized someone broke into my house and stole my laptop. (Also my phone charger and jar of spare change.)

Here’s the current tally of what I’ve lost with this laptop:

  • about 6000 words off my novel – most of what I wrote this month.
  • half a draft of a short story about a giant squid, Freddie Mercury, and the nature of love.
  • 20k of a novel I’d given up on, but had decided to mine for parts for a new project
  • Seven or eight chunks of essays that I’d written
  • all the poetry I never published
  • so many bits of fanfic that I never finished
  • unabridged interviews for some of the audio work i’ve done

Anything that I finished and have submitted in the past few years has been saved in email or on Gdocs. I have an old laptop that should have all of my writing from before 2013. Most of my photos have been backed up on icloud, I think, or are already on facebook or flickr or my phone. And I luckily emailed drafts of the next two chapters of The Noctambulists to my editor, so those are safe.

I’m most bummed about the novel and the short story. Everything else is either not really worth shedding tears over, or it’s easily reproducible. But losing an entire month of work on that novel…it’s like making it two-thirds the way up a mountain and then sliding back so you’re halfway. My goal was to have 50,000 words of it done by my birthday on August 2. It’s just so discouraging. ARGH.

Not to mention that getting a new laptop might set me back a few hundred bucks. I’m lucky that I can afford it right now (THANKS SPECULATIVE LITERATURE FOUNDATION FOR THAT VERY TIMELY GRANT LAST MONTH), and that apparently we have renters’ insurance, but ugh. UGHHHHH.

I would appreciate it if you all joined me in wishing giant, painful boils on the ass of whoever broke into my house and stole my laptop.

But let’s end this update on a high note, yeah? I’m about to head off to Vermont and New England for some well-deserved R&R. I’ll be visiting family, roadtripping, camping, catching up on my reading and writing, and relishing not being in a city for a bit. I’ll also be at Readercon on Friday and Saturday. If you’re there, let me know! Or just come up and introduce yourself.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a month, but I’m trying to feel grateful that I made it through, mostly intact, mostly healthy. Right? Right.

What I’ve been reading: April 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started taking notes about the stories I’ve been enjoying. Here’s this month’s round-up. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com.

Nonfiction

A Fragile Dance: Queer Brown Futures (Or a Lack Therof)” by Lamya H in Autostraddle Beautiful language wrapped around a knife-sharp takedown of white and Western supremacy in the queer community.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Highly recommend listening to the audio book–I love Angelou’s voice.

Novels

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I love Atwood’s novels. She writes about horrible people in horrible situations with such charm. Enjoyable despite some of the *headtilt* stuff: anachronistic mentions of DVDs and CD-ROMs, handwavey science, oddly retro culture and family structures, ugly hints of Orientalism. I started thinking of it as an alternate universe rather than a future dystopia; it seemed oddly dated otherwise.

The Secret Place by Tana French. If you haven’t read any of French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, I recommend them. She has a gift for writing engagingly flawed characters, and using them to examine the human condition. If you’re interested in books with a strong sense of place, French’s description of post-recession Dublin and its surrounding areas is great: rundown inner-city areas, half-abandoned housing developments, old gothic boarding schools.

Short Stories

Loud As a Murder” by Sarah A. Johnson in Crossed Genres. Impressive debut from Johnson–this is her first story published in a professional market. A atypical love story with a non-neurotypical protagonist. I was never sure if this was a story about romance or monsters or both.

The Ways of Walls and Words” by Sabrina Vourvoulias at Tor.com. This story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, in Spanish-colonized Mexico. Its two narrators are an imprisoned Jewish girl and an indigenous maid who sweeps the jail, but it’s a story about freedom. You’re gonna cry. Just know that now.

The Island” by Desirina Boskovitch in Nightmare Magazine. Wonderfully weird and creepy story about a family hiding from the apocalypse on an island. Parts of this felt like an updated, pop-savvy Shirley Jackson. Read if you’re into metafiction, creepy children, and evil trees.

Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs” by Leonard Richardson in Strange Horizons. Martian dinosaurs making a living on the motorcycle racing and monster truck rally circuit. You already know if this is something that will appeal to you. (WHY WOULD THIS NOT APPEAL TO YOU?)

Noise Pollution” by Allison Wilgus in Strange Horizons. I loved the premise: a magical system that’s based on singing and music making keeping an evil entity at bay. I wasn’t so enthralled with the narration, and found it a bit grating, but this world is still very vivid and vibrant. I’d love to see this expanded into a novel or a series of linked short stories.

Stay” by Daniel José Older in Fireside Fiction. Older always writes so well about love and death. This story juxtaposes the dueling chaoses of an urban ER and two people in love. Interesting choice of narrator: a ghost that, somewhat incidentally, haunts one of the characters. Maybe as a stand-in for the audience, able to witness the depth of the action, sympathize with the actors, but not change it.

Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU” and “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado. I started seeking out Machado’s fiction after reading Sofia Samatar’s profile of her in the LA Review of Books. Machado’s fiction interrogates popular culture and the nature of storytelling in a way I find incredibly compelling. “The Husband Stitch” has been nominated for a Nebula this year.

The Litigatrix” by Ken Liu in Podcastle (originally published in GigaNotoSaurus). Fun whodunnit that takes place in (I think) 16th century Korea, with a young female detective. If you’re looking for an introduction to Liu’s work (possibly in anticipation of reading his debut novel The Grace of Kings) this could be a good place to start.

Flash Fiction

Katabasis” by Jen R. Albert in Fireside Fiction. I will always be a sucker for stories that tackle grief and death from a speculative or fantastic perspective. This story discusses what death might mean when technology advances enough to make it, if not actually impermanent, then at least illusory.

Sally The Psychic Alligator” by Sunil Patel in Fireside Fiction. Completely lives up to its title. Ridiculous and fun story about a researcher trying to find her missing psychic alligator.

Story publication: Let Down, Set Free

My short story, “Let Down, Set Free” is now live at Crossed Genres! You can read it here. I originally wrote this story last summer, as a reward for a backer of my Indiegogo campaign, and later workshopped it at Clarion. I think it underwent three major rewrites along the way.

As always, you can also read the rest of Crossed Genres’ issue online. There are two other stories in this issue, including one that is the author’s first professional publication. If you like what you see, please consider supporting them with a subscription, or buying some of their books. Bart, Kay, and Kelly are lovely people who publish lovely things.

What I’ve been reading: March 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started writing down the stories I’ve been enjoying. Here’s this month’s round-up. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com.

Non-fiction
Awakenings by Oliver Sacks and Asleep by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I’m researching encephalitis lethargica for novel-writing reasons, and these are the two most readily available books I’ve come across. Both are fantastic stories of medical science.

Novels
Symbiont by Mira Grant. I read and enjoyed Parasite, the first volume in Grant’s new sci-fi/horror trilogy, but this sequel felt sort of bloated. It took a long time to get anywhere.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray. I read and loved The Diviners, and had been meaning to pick this up. Turns out my library had it online as an audio book. I don’t often listen to audio books, so I’m not sure if the format made it seem like the beginning dragged on. I really appreciated the fully complete world that Bray built in this story, the twists and turns of the plot, and the way the story shifted between utterly ridiculous and incredibly poignant. getintotrouble-220x330

Collections
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link. I’m still reading this, and lingering over every wonderful story. Someone recently said that Kelly Link is her own genre, and I very much agree. Literary, fantastic, intelligent, self-referential… this collection is so great.

Short Stories
The Rainbow” by Kristen Roupenian in Weird Fiction Review. Kristen’s a classmate from Clarion, and this was one of the stories that we workshopped. It reaffirms every creepy, unsettled feeling I have about cruises. Kristen is amazing at creating tense, uncanny, and ultimately horrifying stories.

The Museum and the Music Box” by Noah Keller at Tor.com. Another Clarion classmate, another wonderful story. Noah writes delicate and evocative prose. His stories are like beautifully constructed puzzle boxes, this one especially.

The Way Home” by Linda Nagata in Nightmare Magazine. Seriously thrilling fantasy-horror, about a platoon of soldiers stuck in an otherworld, fighting off demons. I desperately want to see this adapted into a short film.

The Calf” by Vajra Chandrasekera in Three Lobe Burning Eye. Gorgeous, vividly told, and an entirely novel time-travel story. By far, my favorite thing I read this month.

The Cola of Oblivion” by Achy Obejas in The Butter. Very short, very sparse story of a dinner between relatives. Obejas manages to elude and hint at so much in a single conversation: the history of a family, and the history of a country, and the uncertain future of both.

Returned” by Kat Howard in Nightmare Magazine.  Have I mentioned how much I love riffs on the Eurydice and Orpheus myth? This is a very dark one. So satisfying.

Spores” by Seanan McGuire in Nightmare Magazine. Apocalyptic fungal horror. YES.

Subcortical” by Lee Connell in Guernica. So Guernica came out with a gender-themed issue, and this was one of its offerings: the story of a research doctor’s mistress. The doctor is treating transgender patients in the 60’s, trying to cure transgenderism through reparative therapy. I’m still sorting through how I feel about this story. I think it’s thoughtful and well-told, but I felt a little let down: the trans character is very much an Other throughout the piece, ghost-like, pushed into the background of a cis-woman’s story.

Flash Fiction
The Red String” by Cassandra Khaw in Fantastic Stories. A twisted little story about a grieving widow and a mortician, with a chilling twist at the end.

A Domestic Lepidoterist” by Natalie Theodoridou, in Daily Science Fiction. I don’t know where to begin with this story about what is hidden in plain sight. It’s brilliant, the perfect length, and powerful.

What I’ve been reading: February 2015

First, I wanted to mention K. Tempest Bradford’s challenge, issued on xojane.com, to stop reading white cisgender straight male authors. This isn’t the first such challenge I’ve seen, but it’s the first time I’ve gotten to witness people lose their collective shit over it. Possibly because, rather than framing the challenge to do something (i.e., read only women authors or people of color for a year) with a timeline, Bradford’s challenge, at least in its headline, was framed around giving something up. But I’m pretty sure that most of the hubbub was because most people saw the headline, saw the fabulous picture of Bradford holding a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and promptly lost their shit because REVERSE RACISM!

There are problems with the challenge, most of which Nick Mamatas mentions here: unless an author explicitly mentions it, you might not know that they’re queer, trans, or a person of color. Plenty of women have written under pseudonyms or with their initials, in order to work around readers’ biases. It takes a certain amount of planning and research–which isn’t really a problem, in my mind.

Bradford has a couple of great responses here and here, to accusations of reverse-racism and reading only in a comfort zone. What I’ve personally taken away from it is a challenge as a reviewer: to focus primarily on books by authors that have been marginalized, because generally? They need all the exposure they can get. Am I going to exclude cis-het male authors? Not necessarily. Hell, I picked up the full Area X Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer last night, because I enjoyed the hell out of the first two books and am looking forward to reading the third. I also bought books by Dorothy Allison, Emily Carroll (see below!), Samuel Delaney, and Italo Calvino. I am going to continue to focus on authors that are writing from the margins, for all the reasons that Bradford lays out: fighting against biases in publishing, widening the playing field for marginalized writers, and pushing my comfort zones as a reader.

TL:DR: Challenge accepted, since it was something I was mostly trying to do anyway, particularly when it came to reviews.

Cool? Cool. Onto this month’s stories.

First! Stories by friends that I’m totally biased about. They’re lovely.

The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov is a story about love and grief, and how it shapes our rituals of death. Harry’s writing is full of very beautiful, very creepy imagery that’s lovingly rendered.

Acrobatic Duality by Tamara Vardomskaya showcases Tamara’s skill with presenting a mind-blowing idea–having one person share two bodies–and all the questions that arise from it. The characters in this, and the description of world-championship acrobatics, are wonderfully described.

Dropped Stitches by Levi Sable, at The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. More fascinating world-building: a future world in which children are designed according to their programming, but in this case, the programming is coded through knitting patterns. Aside from the amazing world-building, Levi has created an amazingly tense relationship between his two main characters.

Novels
Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’ll be reviewing this for Strange Horizons.

Novelettes
And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander at Lightspeed. It seems like there’s been a lot of recommendations for this already, but I’m just going to add mine: IT’S SO GODDAM GOOD. Has one of those endings that made me want to scream in savage triumph. This story is like Warr

The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací, by Benjamin Parzybok, at Strange Horizons. Gorgeously written, full of creeping dread and dream-like prose.

Short Stories
How To Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps by A. Merc Rustad in Sciegentasy. Features a non-neurotypical, asexual protagonist. Deals with identity, depression, suicidal ideation, transhumanism, and love. Made me and my mother both cry.

21 Steps to Enlightenment by LaShawn M. Wanak in Strange Horizons. Magical realism set in Chicago, in which various staircases appear to those in need of an epiphany. Not all epiphanies are created equally, though, and not everyone needs external revelation.

The Heat of Us: Notes Towards an Oral History by Sam J. Miller in Uncanny Magazine. I feel like I need to write an entire essay on this story, and how fiction can both reflect and deepen our understanding of history, and the use of metaphor as a weapon for the marginalized. The Heat of Us is a retelling of the Stonewall Riots, from a variety of viewpoints. The only speculative element is that, rather than just rioting, the patrons at Stonewall develop collective and temporary pyrokinesis, and burn ten police officers to ash.

Poetry
The Unicorn of Renée d’Orléans-Longueville by Janna Layton in Goblinfruit. Made me cry and gave me the shivers and just generally wrecked me.

Was: Blue Line to Memorial Park by Bogi Tacáks in Strange Horizons. I loved the ingenuity of form in this poem, and SH’s formatting is excellent. I actually said “WHOA” out loud.

Graphic Novels and Comics
Bitch Planet, #2 and #3, by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. Are you reading Bitch Planet? If not, WHY NOT. I reviewed the first issue here at Strange Horizons.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang. This is an ambitious but still accessible piece of historical fiction about China’s Boxer Rebellion. It’s a boxed set of two separate stories, one focusing on the rebels, and the other on a single girl, a Christian convert. It’s fantastic.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I love Carroll’s art, especially her online comics, which make great use of formatting and framing. Her comics, especially in this collection, have a visceral horror and tension to them, making great use of color and lines to portray really dreadful things.